A pair of Massachusetts biotech companies said Tuesday they would eliminate a total of nearly 70 jobs after suffering reverses in their key drug programs.
Shares of Infinity Pharmaceuticals Inc. plunged 69 percent after the 15-year-old Cambridge company said results of a mid-stage clinical study of its duvelisib blood cancer drug fell short of expectations.Infinity said it eliminated 46 research jobs, or 21 percent of its workforce.
Chiasma Inc. said it pared a third of its 70 employees. The cuts follow the company’s April announcement that the Food and Drug Administration had rejected its experimental drug Mycapssa to treat a pituitary gland growth disorder.
The setbacks underscore the high-risk nature of drug development, a key sector of the Massachusetts economy, even at a time of broad scientific advances. Only about 11 percent of clinical trials succeeded from 2012 to 2014, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Infinity had high hopes for duvelisib, which treats a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company is also testing the experimental drug in a late-stage study of patients with another blood cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It is expected to report clinical data from that trial in the second half of this year.
But Tuesday’s trial results put in question a partnership with AbbVie Inc., the North Chicago, Ill., drug maker that recently opened a Cambridge research site. The two companies paused a separate clinical trial on which they’ve collaborated using duvelisib and an AbbVie cancer drug in combination as they reassess their alliance.
Infinity chief executive Adelene Perkins said in an interview that the company’s cutback was “heartbreaking,” but she said Infinity isn’t ready to abandon its drug candidate. “It’s still our hope that we could file for regulatory approval with this data,” she said.
But first, she said, the company will consult with the FDA “to determine our next steps.” She said Infinity’s clinical trial met its top goal, called an endpoint, in showing an overall response in non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients. But it remained unclear if the benefits of the drug represented enough of an improvement over existing blood cancer drugs to justify filing for approval.
Chiasma, which recently moved its headquarters to Waltham from Newton, sustained a 63 percent drop in its stock after the FDA rejection in April. The company at the time said it didn’t plan to cut its workforce, which includes 45 people in the United States and 25 at a research site in Israel.
But on Tuesday it disclosed a restructuring plan that would eliminate jobs, including its entire sales and marketing organization, to focus on continued development of Mycapssa. The company didn’t specify whether all of the cuts will be in Waltham, its commercial base, and a spokeswoman said chief executive Mark Leuchtenberger wouldn’t discuss the move.
Chiasma’s shares fell 8.2 percent Tuesday to $2.57.
“We believe this reduction in staffing and spending is the appropriate action to preserve shareholder value at this time since it is unlikely we will be able to commercially launch Mycapssa in the near term,” Leuchtenberger said in a company statement.